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Travel Anxiety and How to Cope

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

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woman and man in front seat 2 teen girsl in backseat, car interior
Disabled Disney Driving To California

Have you ever had that nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach? That feeling that makes your heart race? That makes you short of breath? A feeling of impending doom, that tells your brain that disaster is coming? Do you experience anxiety while traveling?

I definitely do. It’s something I’ve lived with for a long time. It affects all forms of travel but especially any kind of travel by road. I get super nervous and have to pee constantly and get stomach aches. There is just something about being on the open road that makes me uncomfortable.

Anxiety is no fun, and something that many people struggle with. Anxiety disorders affect approximately 40 million people in the US every year, according to recent reports.

Generalized anxiety disorder affects 3.1% of the population. That means, if you have a work party with 100 people, 3 of them suffer from significant anxiety. That is actually a pretty big number! About 1 or 2 in 50 people, broken down.

Does this tell you anything? What it tells me is that when I feel anxious, there is help out there. It is so common that it is relatively easy to find resources and support.

A little about me

I suffered from anxiety a little bit in junior high and in college, but it came back with a vengeance about a year ago. One of the major triggers in any time we have a long car ride planned.

Being anxious about traveling can be debilitating. It feels so unfair, doesn’t it? Looking forward to a fun vacation becomes a time of dread instead of joyful anticipation. My specific travel anxiety is triggered by rides in the car that are more than 60 minutes long.

We’re went to Key West for a wedding on this past May. We decided to fly into Fort Lauderdale to save money, and then drive to Key West. My husband said it was only a couple hours. I said, No worries. I can handle that.

Turns out the drive was close to 4 hours long.

The funny thing about anxiety is, it’s like a super villain in the dark thriller of your mental illness journey. It is surprising. It lies constantly. And it’s completely beatable with the right tools.

What can you do to manage your travel anxiety?

Talk about your anxiety.

Tell the people you are traveling with about the things that trigger your anxiety. For me, it is a long car ride (I have a fear of needing to go to the bathroom and not being able to find a place to stop.) Use the people around you as a support system. In my case, when I travel with my husband, he assures me we will stop somewhere after X amount of time. That really helps.

It really is nothing to be ashamed of. Anxiety is so common. If you bring it up before the trip, chances are, someone else you are traveling with will be able to relate to you. You are so rarely alone.

Be in charge of the planning.

The more you can control about the trip, the easier it will be to keep your anxiety at bay. Maybe it helps you to be the driver vs. being the passenger. Maybe you prefer to be the navigator. (The countdown clock on the GPS helps me!) Whatever the case, re-establishing some amount of control over the situation can help.

Make a list of all the things before you need to do before the trip to prepare. Sometimes the anticipation of the travel is worse than the actual travel itself. Arm yourself with a good checklist, and cross things off as best you can.

Take your meds.

This seems like silly advice, but sometimes in the chaos of travel prep, it can be easy to forget to take your meds. Set an alarm on your phone so that you remember. Also, set a reminder to pack them in a part of your travel gear that will be easily accessible. Lots of times, we need to take it while you’re still en route. You don’t want to be forced to forget it because it’s stowed away somewhere you can’t reach it.

If you think you are going to forget to set a reminder for yourself, have a fellow traveler act as an accountability partner. Ask them if they would be willing to remind you to take your medication at a certain time.

Bring something distracting.

Whether it’s a book, headphones, books of word puzzles, or whatever the case may be, you need something to distract your brain. Anxiety is, at the risk of oversimplifying, a state of obsession your brain enters. If you can redirect your thoughts to something else, you will find yourself forgetting whatever it was you were obsessing over.

I have been really into true crime podcasts lately. I love Crime Junkie and anything True Crime related. Let yourself be immersed in an interesting investigation, and try to forget your worries.

Don’t feel ashamed

Traveling can be so much fun. It is a blast to explore new places, spend time with loved ones, and make lots of memories.

Yes, sometimes I feel anxious when I travel. But you know what? So do a lot of people. There is absolutely no reason I should be ashamed by that, and neither should you!

These tips are just a few ways I am able to travel even when it makes me incredibly anxious. I was able to take a 3 hour car ride alone with my kids in recent months. That is a huge win for me.

Follow the tips above and travel with ease. Have any fun travel plans coming up? What are some of your strategies for traveling with anxiety?

About the Author

Jen (the writer behind the blog, Diffusing the Tension) lives in Northwest Indiana with her husband and two children (ages 4.5 and 3). She has bipolar disorder and frequently writes about her experiences with that. In her spare time, she is OBSESSED with true crime. She is also a bookworm, TV junkie, and fitness nut. You can follow her on:

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